Making All City Parks Off-Leash Dog Parks Is Crazy

Dufferin Grove Park Off-Leash Dogs

*December 6 update* – Just to close the issue on this, since getting clarification that the proposal is for “select” city parks to be given “courtesy hours” early in the AM and later in the PM, it is safe to say that responsible dog owners would be strongly in favour of this. This allows dog owners more options for legal off-use areas, and allows others to wish to avoid off-leash dogs a greater ability to avoid them, since where and when they are off-leash would be understood. Great for dogs in need of space.

Toronto city councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong made the news by suggesting that all city parks be made available for off-leash use by dog owners from 9pm-9am.

At first glance, this may seem like a good idea, and you’d think that any dog loving person would be in support of this. However, upon closer evaluation, this is a horrible idea both for everyone.

Four Reasons Why This Is A Very Bad Idea:

  • Many dogs chase and bite fast moving objects. In particular, cyclists, runners, and children do not mesh well with dogs. Many dogs chase fast moving objects and can frighten a cyclist, causing them to fall, or bite a runner. Dogs do not belong off leash anywhere near cycling or running trails.
  • Small children are susceptible to being knocked over and injured by dogs. It is for this reason children do not belong in dog parks. Similarly, dogs do not belong off leash near where small children play.
  • When a dog is off-leash, the likelihood of even diligent owners picking up every poop is reduced. Couple in darkness, and, the odds of poop being left in city parks where users sit, run through, and roll on increases. Dog feces can carry zoonotic disease like various types of worms, giardia, and other parasites and bacteria. This is a health risk to everyone, but especially the young, elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.
  • Not all dogs want to play with other dogs off leash. Many owners that have dogs that are elderly, injured, have disabilities, are fearful, or even aggressive need spaces to walk their dogs, on leash, and be free from interactions from other dogs. A boisterous, friendly dog, that runs up to any of these dog is a disaster waiting to happen. If any park is fair game for off-leash dogs, these dogs will have nowhere to go.

 

Minnan-Wong is correct in that there are too few dedicated off-leash parks in the city. As a result, in every community in Toronto, there are school fields and parkettes everywhere that are already being used illegally by dog owners as unofficial off-leash parks anyways. But, in these cases, they are usually free of children, joggers, cyclists, and other users of the park that would naturally come into conflict with off-leash dog owners.

In other places, such as the greenspace along the Martin Goodman trail, due to the high volume of cyclists and joggers, the vast majority of dog owners keep their dogs on leash. It’s a smart move anyways, since no one want to see their dog get run over by a cyclist, or have their dog chase down and bite a cyclist.

However, by making it officially legal to allow any dog off leash at any city park during that time period, there will be an significant increase in the number of runner/cyclist/child dog incidents. Many of these incidents will involve biting.

It’s Not Quite Like That In New York

He claims that this works in cities like New York. But, as far as I know, only Central Park has off-leash dog hours. This leaves many other places for joggers, cyclists, and dogs who’d rather not play with others to enjoy, free from having to deal with off-leash dogs. A blanket rule that allows any dog to be off-leash at any city park is quite dangerous.

What I would propose:

The city should just greatly expand the number of approved off-leash areas to meet need. Perhaps officially designate a large # of city parks as off-leash areas during designated times. But, each park should be considered carefully, taking into consideration the other types of use it currently serves. This already happens unofficially.

For example, Dufferin Grove, by College and Dufferin, is not an official off-leash dog park, but, the soccer field is commonly used by local residents as an off-leash park during the day. It is not a park commonly used by cyclists or joggers, and the playground area where children play is far away and physically separated by fencing. Dufferin Grove is very easily a park that should be approved to be an official off-leash dog park, provided soccer games are not in session.

Dufferin Grove Park Off-Leash Dogs
Duke and Elmo, off-leash,at Dufferin Grove Park. No soccer game, no joggers, no cyclists, no children, well-trained, great recalls – no problem.

There already is a process for applying for off-leash areas. Why not just make it work faster, and approve more of them?

http://www.toronto.ca/parks/facilities/dogs/application.htm

PLEASE, for the sake of everyone, including dog-lovers, please do not implement a blanket bylaw that allows any dog to be off leash at any city park. It is a disaster waiting to happen.

Good Behaviour Depends on Good Health

Finnegan Beagle

If you’ve hired one of us from When Hounds Fly to discuss behaviour problems (fear, anxiety, reactivity, aggression), you’ll remember that before we even talk about the behaviour problems, we spend time talking about the overall lifestyle of the dog.

The House of Good Health

Sabine Contreras of Better Dog Care (her business is in dog nutrition counselling) has a framework on her web site called “The House of Good Health”:

House of Health

When the foundation and pillars falter, behaviour falters.

Recent Examples

Just in the last two weeks alone, here are three anecdotal stories that support this common belief:

  • My own Beagle, Duke, we discovered, was suffering from some sort of skin problem. We noticed this due to flaking and itchiness. At the same time, his reactivity towards dogs increased. Once diagnosed and addressed, the skin flaking and itchiness subsided, and his reactivity to dogs decreased again to very low levels.
  • Another client’s dog, who withdrew from group classes due to dog aggression, worked with us via private lessons. The dog had ongoing gastrointestinal issues. We referred to Christine Ford of Oh My Dog and she prescribed a new home prepared diet. Within a short period of time of starting to just transition to the new diet, we received this email:

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]Beau is doing much better, thanks for asking.  We increased his new food to 15% a few days ago, so we are going to keep him on that amount for a few more days.  His poops are still pretty good – he is pooping more often and each poop is pretty small, so we are making sure to take him out more often.

There was one question I wanted to run by you – has it been your experience that when dogs are eating a poor diet, that this can impact their behaviour?  This may sound crazy, but we have noticed that with the supplements and the small portion of new food, Beau’s dog aggression has decreased a bit.  We weren’t sure if this was due to all the training we have been doing, but we noticed the biggest difference when we started changing his diet.[/quote]

  • Another past student emailed saying that their dog had suddenly started growling and fighting with other dogs in his walking group. So much so, that the walkers had to crate and isolate this dog for safety. They were interested in training, but instead, I directed them to their vet. I didn’t hear back from them for a while and upon checking in, this is what they had to say:

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]

As you suggested we took him to the vet when he started acting grumpy to other dogs. The vet thought he might be having lower back pain. Finn was on painkillers for a few days and that seemed to do the trick. So all’s well that ends well.

 

[/quote]

Get Started Now

Is all undesired behaviour related to the foundations and pillars as Sabine calls them? No, of course not. However, before embarking on a journey of training and behaviour modification, it is irresponsible not to exhaust every avenue and leave no stone unturned on the foundations of diet, exercise, physical health, and environmental enrichment.

With health related issues, first consult your veterinarian. Tell them if your dog is having behaviour problems. They should be helpful and not hinder your attempts just to ensure your dog is in perfect health. Some veterinarians have out of date information regarding behaviour and will be resistant. If they are, that is a red flag, since any good behaviour modification program starts with an evaluation of health.

Diet can make a huge difference, so consider hiring someone like Sabine or Christine to help you formulate a home prepared diet. This is especially true if you have a dog with allergies or gastrointestinal issues.

Finally, hire a dog trainer/behaviour consultant who understands how to use humane, force-free methods to help with fear, anxiety, and aggression to get help with the training component of helping your dog out.

Finnegan Beagle
Finnegan the Beagle two years ago in puppy class. Suddenly growling and crusty just because his back hurt. Now he’s back to being the dog loving Beagle he always was.

Additional Resources

Sabine Contreras, Better Dog Care

Christine Ford, Oh My Dog

Emily Fisher has a longer post about this very same topic with her own dog, Elsie

Jean Dodds Hemopet – Blood Testing

Managing and Treating Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety

What is Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety is a condition in dogs where emotionally and physiologically, the dog becomes panic stricken when he’s apart from his owner or people in general. Typically it manifests itself when a dog is left home alone.

  • Behaviors that occur when a dog is suffering from separation anxiety:
  • Urination (a normally housebroken dog will soil within minutes of being left alone)
  • Vomiting
  • Self-mutilation (licking his/her own paws excessively till the fur is gone and the skin is raw)
  • Destroying objects (pillows, shoes, door trim, trying to eat the door)
  • Barking or howling

 

Some physiological signs include:

  • Sweaty paws
  • Glazed eyes
  • Panting
  • Excessive pacing

 

Why does it develop?

There are many reasons why a dog may develop separation anxiety. It has been observed that puppies that are transported by air cargo during puppyhood (specifically, around 8-11 weeks) have a higher likelihood of developing separation anxiety. It also develops when a dog never has the opportunity to practice being alone, especially when growing up as a puppy (for example, an owner who takes time off from work and is with the puppy 24/7 for weeks at a time). Major lifestyle changes such as a work-from-home person suddenly having to go to an office 9-5, or moving to a new home can also cause separation anxiety to appear later in life.

Regardless of the reason, it is a major reason why dogs end up in shelter (Dogs can bark and howl loudly – if they have separation anxiety, the owners get eviction notices).

 

Don’t confuse Separation Anxiety for Boredom

A dog that chews your shoes when you’re gone may just be bored and wanted to chew your shoe. Similarly, a dog that soils in the house when left alone may just not be housebroken – or you left them at home for longer than their bladder could handle. Look for sweaty paw prints, drool puddles, glazed eyes, etc. as signs that it is separation anxiety and not a general training issue. Recording your dog with a camera when you’re gone is a good way to tell.

 

Managing Separation Anxiety

Solving separation anxiety, after its developed, may take months or years. So you’ll need management strategies while you implement treatment strategies. Here are a few:

  • Confine the dog to a small room, leaving only chew toys and dog items in the room (kongs stuffed with food, hard, safe chew toys, etc.) This way he can’t eat your shoes or destuff a pillow. He may ignore the kongs when you’re gone (too panicked to touch them) but that will change over time.
  • Crate train your dog and create him when left alone – leave toys/chews inside. Again, this is about minimizing damage to the house and the dog when you’re gone.
  • Leave the dog with a friend when you’re gone.
  • Leave the dog at dog daycare if you need to be away for long durations.
  • Have a dogwalker come mid-day to give him a break – have the dogwalker return the dog to the crate or room and resupply with new kongs.
  • Use “natural” anti-anxiety products like Rescue Remedy in his water
  • Try a product like a Thundershirt
  • Consider using a DAP Diffuser in the small room (pheromones for calming anxious dogs)
  • Consider prescription anxiety drugs from your vet as a short term solution (to lower the anxiety to a level that treatment strategies become effective) – discuss this with your vet. In the case of severe separation anxiety, this may be the only way to start making inroads in addressing the problem.

 

Treating Separation Anxiety

  • Exercise the dog before departure (30-40 minutes, offleash, running – playing fetch, etc.) and then give them some time to rest and recover.
  • Leave home from different doors, wear different coats and shoes, don’t always get your wallet and keys in the same order – mix it up – sometimes put your coat on and go sit in the living room. You’re trying to randomize the predictors of departure so that anxiety doesn’t build up as you get ready to leave.
  • Feed your dog when you leave (i.e. give breakfast in a food dispensing toy such as a Kong Wobbler when you leave for work, and dinner when you go out for the night)
  • Leave stuffed kongs and other food toys in the crate or room your dog is left in.
  • Most importantly – practice PLANNED DEPARTURES

 

What is a Planned Departure?

A planned departure is leaving your home for a set amount of time strictly for the purposes of desensitizing your dog to being left alone. If you pack up and leave, you may find your dog is silent for 1 minute at first, then the barking or urination starts at 1:01. If that’s his threshold, you leave for 55 seconds, and then return. Repeat at 56 seconds, then 57, and slowly move your way up. Doing as many as you can sporadically through the day is the best way to do this.

Over days and weeks you’ll move from increments of seconds to minutes – over time your dog will be able to tolerate being alone and loose for longer and longer periods. Once you get up to about the 10 minute mark, it’s easy to integrate this practice to your daily life – 10 minutes is enough time to go to the corner store to pick up milk, or walk to the video store to return a movie, go to the bank ATM, etc. The more reasons to leave and come back the better.

After weeks and months of work, you’ll break the 60 minute mark – at that point you’ll be able to leave your dog alone to go to the gym, eat at a neighbourhood restaurant, etc. By that time your dog should be OK to be alone for 3+ hours at a time.

Just make sure the dog is well exercised, has been opportunities to relieve himself, and you’ve left lots of chew toys and stuffed kongs (and hidden your prized pair of shoes or other at risk objects) to set your dog up for success.

Use webcams and audio recording software to help you collect useful data about whether your dog’s anxiety is getting better over time.

It is important as you work up on your departure durations to avoid leaving the dog home alone for longer than they can handle. This may mean heavy reliance on dog daycares, friends, family, and a severe impact on your social life in the short-term.

Here’s a video of a beagle that suffers from Separation Anxiety. Notice that the dog ignores food that is left behind – he is too stressed to eat – a sign that he suffers from moderate to severe separation anxiety (mildly anxious dogs will still eat when left alone).

Further resources to help:

Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs by Malena Demartini-Price

Don’t Leave Me by Nicole Wilde

I’ll Be Home Soon by Patricia McConnell

What Training Goldfish Teaches You About Dogs

Clicker Training Goldfish

What does teaching a Goldfish tricks have to do with dog training?

There are a lot of lessons to be learned about behaviour and operant conditioning by going through the work of teaching a common goldfish to swim through a small hoop or chase a plastic straw.

  1. A dog has a considerably larger brain than a fish.  Every dog, therefore, should have enough grey matter to amaze his or her owners.
  2. You cannot use a choke, prong, or shock collar on a fish.  You cannot hit a fish either.  So the trainer needs to use his or her grey matter to figure out how to make this work.
  3. Even a goldfish can be trained without lures.  Notice when the food is presented to the fish?  After the event marker (penlight), and after the behavior is performed.  This fish KNOWS what the meaning of that little plastic hoop is.  It KNOWS that it is following a plastic red straw.  It is not mindlessly chasing food dangled by its nose (figuratively speaking, of course).
  4. Your dog is considerably more forgiving on the timing of the click and food delivery that most fish are.

Enjoy the video!

Dog Begs for Food at Dinner Table – How to address this without punishment

Dog Not Begging at Dinner Table

Why is this dog sitting in the corner, not begging for food?

Dog Not Begging at Dinner Table
Dog Not Begging at Dinner Table

Why is Petey sitting patiently with his butt pressed against the wall in the corner, while my father enjoys his lunch and tea? Because of the effective use of operant conditioning (positive reinforcement quadrant only).

Dogs are scavengers by nature. Dogs came into being as scavengers of the refuse of human civilization. So, can we blame them for instinctively begging for food at the dinner table? It is a natural, instinctive behaviour that is in their genetic makeup.

How would a traditional, force and correction based trainer handle a dog that mugs you while you’re eating? Probably through the use of aversives (stuff that the dog does not like) which can include verbal correction (ennnn! noooo!!), physical correction (stepping on the dogs toes, hitting the dog in the face, choking it with a collar), or remote correction (spray bottle in the face, citronella collar, shock collar).

Depending on how food motivated the dog is, or how scary the aversive is to the dog, the behaviour may end, and it may end quickly. But at what cost to your relationship with your dog? And what has the dog learned? That humans at dining tables are dangerous.

So, how does a positive reinforcement trainer teach a dog to not beg at the dining table?

Firstly, I never fed Petey when he was begging at the dinner table. You do it once, or twice, and you have created a very powerful history of reinforcement for rewarding the dog’s persistence at bothering you while eating. If you suddenly stop feeding from the dinner table, you’ll find the dog is even more motivated now to bug you. “Hey, hellloooo. I am here again. Why aren’t you feeding me like you normally do? HELLLLOOO. What’s wrong with you? You fed me here last time. HEY!!! YOU!!!”.

So, after a few days after rescuing him, he realized that jumping on me, or sitting next to me, while I was at the dining table produced no results. That approach, in Petey’s mind, was a broken down dead end.

If you want a nuisance behaviour to end, you must, as a humane trainer, think of a specific replacement behaviour that the dog can do that is acceptable. If you just want the dog to “stop doing this, and stop doing that”, you are asking for an off-switch on your dog – which can be accomplished by just shooting it with a gun (hence the title for Karen Pryor’s seminal book “Don’t Shoot the Dog!”). In this case, I wanted Petey to sit in the farthest corner of any room that we were eating in and patiently wait.

Operant conditioning states that behaviours that are rewarded will be repeated with increasing likelihood. So, I simply kept a small handful of kibble at the dining table whenever we eat. When I spotted Petey heading towards the farther corner of the room, I clicked and tossed a kibble to Petey. After a few meals he came to learn that sitting the corner was the most likely place for him to be rewarded.

Next, after the behaviour was established, I began shaping for duration. I just kept my watch at the table. I found that Petey would sit still for about 3 minutes before breaking his sit, so I began only clicking and treating if he held his position for 3 minutes and 30 seconds. Then 4 minutes, then 5. At this point we can pretty much have an entire meal start to finish with Petey’s butt glued to the wall.

This whole process only took a couple of weeks, and we have prevented a common “nuisance” behaviour from developing into a pattern with a strong reinforcement history. Instead, Petey loves shoving his butt into corners now!

Resource Guarding – Dog growls to protect his bone

How do you safely take a toy or bone away from a dog?

Does your dog exhibit aggressive behavior when he has a bone or toy? This issue is called Resource Guarding and if not addressed, can escalate into dangerous behaviors like biting.

From an evolutionary standpoint, dogs developed this behavior for obvious reasons. If a dog didn’t protect high value objects like meaty bones from theft, it would starve, pure and simple!

In practical terms, that toy, bone, or high valued object is rewarding to the dog, and having it taken away is an undesired outcome.

Forcing the dog physically to give up the toy will cause this problem to escalate, up to and including severe biting. So how can we address it safely?

As a positive reinforcement dog trainer, you must make the behavior of giving up the toy or bone a rewarding behavior. This is commonly done by trading objects with the dog with food – after all, the dog can’t guard a toy while simultaneously taking food from your hand.

Furthermore, if every time a toy or bone is given up and it’s put away, there’s no incentive for the dog to ever give up the toy, so its important to trade for food, and then return the toy to the dog. This creates a win-win situation where there’s no downside at all to giving up the highly valued object.

If you trade for food, and return the toy enough times, you’ll find your dog actually looks forward to releasing the toy as you approach. Its at this time we can put the behavior on cue with “Out” or “Drop It”.

If your dog has developed a serious case of resource guarding, where he starts growling and even biting as you approach, it is absolutely critical that you get professional help with this work as the risk of eliciting a dog bite is very high.

Whatever you do, don’t force the dog to release the object. This only teaches the dog that he was right to guard the item in the first place, and will increase the severity of the guarding and increase the severity of his aggression response. He’ll progress from guarding looks and body language to growling, and ultimately may resort to biting to protect the object.

Start early with your puppy to practice trading. If your adult dog is growling or biting, get help right away with a trainer or behaviourist that uses positive reinforcement to teach the dog that giving up toys is a fun and rewarding game.

Reliable Recall at the Offleash Dog Park

How to train your dog not to run away from you at the park!

Second to learning how to walk nicely on leash, new dog owners’ second most requested call for help is a reliable recall while off leash. In Toronto, the unfortunate thing is most dog owners are inadvertently training to teach their dogs to run away from them!

What do knowledgeable dog owners do differently to train their dogs to stay nearby and come when called?

Shower your dog with attention and rewards when he’s near – Reward your dog for staying near you by rewarding with food (the morning dog park run is a great place to feed your dog breakfast) and fun games (tug of war, fetch, wrestling, hide and seek). Too many dog owners go to the dog park and stand in a circle talking to other dog owners, paying no attention to their dogs. They’re too focused on their coffee or chatting with owners and are about as interesting as rock to their dogs. Can you blame a dog for getting bored and wandering off?

Don’t let your dog loose focus on you for too long – By staying engaged with your dog at the park by playing with him, it’ll keep him from getting locked onto an interesting scent or chasing a squirrel – you’ll be able to interrupt and redirect with more fun and games. Dog owners that ignore their dogs often discover their dog is almost near the dog park exit are too late – any they end up rewarding the dog for leaving the park by calling their name (finally) and chasing them down – the attention earned for running out of the park is often the only form of reward that these poor dogs get! Their owners are rewarding them for leaving the park grounds by ignoring them when they’re near and paying attention when they leave.

Don’t let your dog off leash until he’s ready – A new puppy should be trained to return to handler every time he goes to the park. Keep the puppy’s leash dragging so in case he decides to bolt, you can catch him (and prevent the puppy from being rewarded for ignoring the owner). Off leash rights are something a dog should earn through consistent focus and recall exercises at home and in the yard. You might not take away the leash dragging until after a few months of daily off leash work.

No matter what your dog did right before, if he comes back to you, reward and praise lavishly. Punishment damages the trust a dog has and gives them a reason to second guess ever returning to you. Dogs that are trained punishment free never have to think twice about what’s waiting when he gets back to his handler.

Remember, reliable off-leash recall is a behavior that requires daily, consistent work, and its reliability changes dynamically based on the degree of distraction in the environment. Be patient and aim to be the most interesting thing at the dog park for your dog, every day.

Why has my dog started getting into fights at the dog park?

Is he dominant? NO…

Why has my dog, who used to love other dogs, started to get into fights at the dog park? Is he dominant?

Dominant? Usually not. Few dogs are born wanting to get into fights. Fighting behaviour is evolutionary suicide. So why has my dog started barking, lunging, and biting other dogs at the park?

There could be many reasons –

He’s not feeling well. Dogs are very stoic and hide discomfort very well. Make sure he’s been recently vetted and isn’t suffering from pain ordominant aggressive dog illness. If he is ill, dealing with the medical condition can often make the behavioral issue go away.

He’s been punished by or around dogs – One of the dangers of using punishment training (leash corrections) is that the punishment is often paired near or around other dogs (leash corrections for looking at dogs, “training” classes where leash corrections are done around other dogs in class). This can also happen at dog daycares/dog walking services that use punishment (spray bottles, physical corrections, bark collars, etc.). Pulling while on leash can also cause this (the dog sees a dog on the street, gets excited, pulls towards it, and experiences neck pain and frustration – in a dog’s mind, the other dog is causing the pain).

He’s been harassed by other dogs at the park – Look closely at the picture of the Beagle. Does he look happy? He’s doing everything he can to get away from the pushy Ridgeback. If the Ridgeback doesn’t stop, the owner of the Ridgeback doesn’t recall his dog, or the Beagle owner doesn’t leave, how long would it take before the Beagle decides to bark and lunge to send the Ridgeback away? How long would it take before the Beagle decides he hates the dog park, hates Ridgebacks, and hates all dogs? If the Beagle fights back, the Beagle owner collects his dog and leaves – reinforcing the very behavior of fighting back.

Photo courtesy of Päivi Reijonen – view the entire set on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30096200@N08/sets/72157623555143141/

 

But I heard socializing your dog is very important! It absolutely is… BUT…

Socializing your dog at the park is a good idea, but it requires careful monitoring of his body language and selection of play partners. Our puppy socialization class teaches owners how to watch for these warning signs and ensures your puppy associates nothing but good things with other dogs. Overly rough play and bullying can just teach your dog to dislike other dogs. Young puppies also tend to be picked on and bullied by other dogs, which can teach them to be fearful of dogs – exactly the opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish.

If your dog has already started exhibiting aggressive behaviours towards dogs, don’t delay and ask us for help. The longer you allow your dog to practice these behaviours  the stronger they become, and the harder it is to undo.

On-leash aggression towards dogs

A fear aggressive / reactive German Shepherd lunges at another dog

Why does my dog bark and lunge at other dogs on leash?

First, rest assured, you are not alone. This behavioral issue is so common that there are volumes of books specifically written about the subject. Dog trainers and behaviorists refer to this issue as “on-leash aggression” or “on-leash reactivity”. That being said, this is a serious issue that needs addressing as soon as possible – the longer you wait, and the more it happens, the harder it is to address. A reactive dog can bite other dogs and even bite dog owners nearby.

What is it?

A dog with on-leash reactivity often gets along marvelously with other dogs when off-leash at the park, or in the yard, or even in home. But the minute you put on a leash and go for a walk, he becomes interested, then agitated at the sight of a dog at a distance. As you get closer, he expresses the frustration by barking, howling, lunging, and even biting. He’s so fired up that calling his name, luring him with food, or even applying leash corrections does nothing.

A fear aggressive / reactive German Shepherd lunges at another dog
A fear aggressive / reactive German Shepherd lunges at another dog

Photo courtesy of Päivi Reijonen (dog trainer and behaviorist) – view the entire set on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30096200@N08/sets/72157623555143141/

 

What causes it?

Every dog is different, and it is difficult to figure out exactly why a specific dog develops this issue. Here are a few common reasons:

The dog never learned to walk loosely on leash, or focus on the handler when called. As a result, the dog is used to pulling around everywhere to investigate everything. The sight of a dog on the sidewalk is a novel distraction at first, so a puller struggles to go meet and sniff that other dog. Naturally, on-leash, and on the sidewalk, your dog doesn’t have the freedom to wander up and sniff every dog. The frustration of being unable to get to that interesting thing, compounded by the physical pain of the collar tension that occurs when pulling towards another dog is highly unpleasant. Soon, the dog associates the sight of another dog with feelings of frustration and pain, and very soon, through simple classical conditioning, the dog sees other dogs on the street as the reason for that feeling and pain. As it happens each and every time they see a dog on leash, the conditioning occurs very quickly.

The dog had learned to be fearful or dislike other dogs. This can occur if a dog has been harassed or attacked by another dog – sometimes it just takes one bad experience to make a dog fearful. This can also occur if a dog was not exposed to a wide variety of other friendly dogs while it was a puppy. In an off-leash setting, the dog has the option to flee. When a dog is on leash, we’ve taken away that option, so all that’s left is freeze, or fight. The on-leash reactive dog is barking and lunging to send the other dog away proactively.

The dog may be ill or injured. Dogs hide injury well, and perfectly well socialized dogs that suddenly start acting aggressively (in any context) may be hurt and vulnerable, and instinctively become more defensive. Make sure your dog is fully vetted to check for illness or injury.

 

What does not cause it:

Unfortunately, many “experts” are extremely misinformed about this and most other behavioral issues. Here are the most common and incorrect explanations they provide:

  • The dog is “dominant” and wants to fight every other dog.
  • Dogs have been selectively bred over many generations to avoid conflict – a species that is genetically predisposed to fighting tends to make itself extinct. Also, if the dog was a natural born fighter, he wouldn’t be an angel at the off leash dog park.
  • The dog doesn’t respect you as the “leader” or “alpha” or whatever and therefore is protecting you.
  • There is a behavioral issue called “resource guarding” where dogs guard their owners, but it is far more rare and typically occurs on or off-leash.
  • On-leash reactive dogs can be extremely well trained in obedience, and do everything their handler asks, and still lunge and bark.
  • You are not calm and assertive.
  • You could be totally oblivious to the fact there’s a dog approaching (and therefore relaxed) and the leash-reactive dog would still bark and lunge if they see the other dog first.

 

What training techniques should we avoid?

If you are advised to do any of the following, run far, far away from that trainer:

  • Leash corrections
    • The dog already fears and dislikes other dogs. Causing additional pain and discomfort whenever he sees another dog only compounds the feelings of frustration, fear, and hatred. The correction may suppress the behaviour  but the emotional attitude the dog has continues to slide into deeper frustration and hatred of dogs on leash. The dog has also not learned any desirable behaviour in its place (such as look at the handler).
  • Spray bottles or citronella collars
    • Many dogs fear spray bottles or citronella collars, so these “softer” aversives should not be used for the same reason. Conversely, many dogs do not care about getting water in the face, rendering them useless. In both cases, the dog has learned nothing.
  • Physical violence (yelling, hitting, poking, tapping, kicking, alpha-rolling, etc.)
    • You may suppress the behaviour (probably not) but you have also put yourself at severe risk of being bitten.
    • A dog learns that humans are dangerous, and hands are dangerous – you are creating a fear-biting dog.

What should you do about it?

Any behaviour issue that puts dogs and people at risk of injury is serious and is not something you should address on your own. This work requires you to have both knowledge of classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and practical work to manage your dog and deliver food rewards all while walking your dog on leash. Get the help of a professional dog trainer or behaviourist that prescribes the following:

  • Manage the environment – do not allow your dog to rehearse the barking and lunging. This means maintaining distance from other dogs while on leash as you train.
  • Change the dog’s emotional attitude towards other dogs while on leash – This is best accomplished by feeding your dog high value food (cheese, hot dogs, steak, chicken) each and every time he sees a dog while on leash.
  • Focus on safety – a head halter, or in extreme cases, a basket muzzle, ensures that you, your dog, and other owners and dogs are safe while you do the work.
  • Train an incompatible behavior – If you train the dog to look at your face and lock on when a dog approaches, it now has something to do other than bark and lunge.

 

Compare and Contrast: Good Training vs Bad Training

The first video has Dr. Sophia Yin (www.askdryin.com) using a combination of operant conditioning and classical conditioning to teach a leash-reactive dog to tolerate and then eventually like other dogs. You know this dog is happy because of his body language.

The second video from a certain TV program shows the use of severe leash corrections as a punishment to suppress behavior. In this case, the aggressive dog looks at another dog – the person kicks the dog (2:56), triggering the dog to bite, and then proceeds to choke the dog till it nearly suffocates. The person is bitten and dogs subjected to this punishment will suffer neck, spinal, tracheal, and ocular damage. If the owners tried this they would likely require hundreds of stitches.

GOOD DOG TRAINING:

 

BAD DOG TRAINING:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qh9YOyM2TAk

Dog Bite Prevention and Safety

Keep Your Dog and Your Family Safe from Dog Bites

Did you know that in the US, 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year? And, of those incidents, 77% of them are bites from the family pet (or a friend’s pet), and 50% of bites occur on the owner’s property? This means that you are more likely to be bitten by your own family dog than someone elses!

The next important fact to know is that dog bites rarely happen “out of the blue, all of a sudden”. Most dogs exhibit a wide range of body language and signals to indicate they are uncomfortable with the situation. The problem is, humans either do not understand or choose to ignore those clear communication signals. The dog is forced to either tolerate, run away, or bite.

The first thing you should do is learn how to greet and interact with dogs appropriately. The first rule is you should always ask the owner of the other dog if is it OK to say hello to them. Not all dogs will tolerate a stranger giving them a rough head pet. This is especially important to teach children. Lili Chin. of www.doggiedrawings.net created this great illustration called “How Not To Greet A Dog”:

How Not To Greet A Dog

Needless to say – dogs do not like head pets, people leading over them, staring them in the face, scrunching their hears, hugging them chest to chest, or kisses to the head. You never see two dogs greeting each other this way. You DO see primates greeting this way though – and guess what, we’re primates.

The second thing you should do is learn how to read canine body language. Once you know what to look for, it becomes very obvious when a dog is upset or in a position where a bite is possible. Visit www.doggonesafe.com and view the “Learn to Speak Dog” section here: http://www.doggonesafe.com/Speak_Dog

A few examples of signs of anxiety in a dog include

  • Head turns away from you
  • Panting
  • Whale Eye / Half Moon Eye (whites of eyes showing, especially when normally you never see them)
  • Scratching
  • Shake-off (as if the dog was wet, but he’s dry) after the hugging/touching ends
  • Yawning
  • Lip-Licking
  • Standing up and walking away

If your dog does these things while being touched or greeted by other people, this is a sign that your dog is uncomfortable. If you don’t listen to them, they may feel like they have no choice but to start showing signs of aggression like. Many people fail to even notice these more obvious signs:

  • Body stiffens
  • Lip curls / showing teeth
  • Low growl
  • Nose-bumping (jumping up to bump his nose against yours)
  • Air biting (intentionally biting and missing as a warning shot)

The third thing you should do, especially if you are the owner of a new puppy, is ensure they are extremely well socialized by the time they turn 13 weeks of age! Ensure your new puppy has met over 100 different types of people, has been handled in a variety of ways (but always gently), and fed yummy treats. This early socialization helps increase the tolerance that your puppy will have for the types of greetings they don’t like.

Lastly… if you have a young one, or are inviting young ones over to your house where they will interact with a dog – teach them that dogs are not stuffed animals or playthings – basically do the opposite of what is in the following video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UsheRA3uP-Y

And here is a video of Gunner the Dalmation displaying every warning behaviour possible that precedes a bite. I have no idea what the mother of this toddler is thinking!!!